United States v. Reynolds
397 U.S. 14 (1970)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Reynolds, 397 U.S. 14 (1970)

United States v. Reynolds

No. 88

Argued January 14, 1970

Decided February 24, 1970

397 U.S. 14

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The right to a jury trial afforded by Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 71A(h) in a federal eminent domain proceeding on the issue of just compensation, does not extend to the question whether the condemned "lands were probably within the scope of the project from the time the Government was committed to it" (either by the original plans or during the course of planning or original construction), and that question is for the trial judge to decide. Pp. 397 U. S. 15-21.

404 F.2d 303, vacated and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky to condemn more than 250 acres of the respondents' land for a federal development known as the Nolin Reservoir Project located in that State. An important issue in the case was raised by the respondents' claim that 78 acres of the land, taken for construction of recreational facilities adjacent to the reservoir, had not been within the original scope of the project. [Footnote 1] A jury

Page 397 U. S. 15

awarded the respondents $20,000 as just compensation for all the land taken. Upon an appeal by the respondents, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment and ordered a new trial, finding that the District Judge, in his instructions to the jury, had erroneously referred to matters disclosed outside the jury's presence. [Footnote 2] The trial and appellate courts were in agreement, however, in rejecting the Government's contention that the "scope of the project" issue was for the trial judge to decide, and should not, therefore, have been submitted to the jury at all. There being a conflict between the circuits on this question, [Footnote 3] we granted certiorari to consider a recurring problem of importance in federal condemnation proceedings. 396 U. S. 14.

The Fifth Amendment provides that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.

Page 397 U. S. 16

And "just compensation" means the full monetary equivalent of the property taken. [Footnote 4] The owner is to be put in the same position monetarily as he would have occupied if his property had not been taken. [Footnote 5] In enforcing the constitutional mandate, the Court at an early date adopted the concept of market value: the owner is entitled to the fair market value of the property [Footnote 6] at the time of the taking. [Footnote 7] But this basic measurement of compensation has been hedged with certain refinements developed over the years in the interest of effectuating the constitutional guarantee. It is one of these refinements that is in controversy here.

The Court early recognized that the "market value" of property condemned can be affected, adversely or favorably, by the imminence of the very public project that makes the condemnation necessary. [Footnote 8] And it was perceived that to permit compensation to be either reduced or increased because of an alteration in market value attributable to the project itself would not lead to the "just compensation" that the Constitution requires. [Footnote 9] On the other hand, the development of a public project may also lead to enhancement in the market value of neighboring land that is not covered by the project itself. And if that land is later condemned, whether for an extension of the existing project or for some other public purpose, the general rule of just compensation requires that such enhancement in value be

Page 397 U. S. 17

wholly taken into account, since fair market value is generally to be determined with due consideration of all available economic uses of the property at the time of the taking. [Footnote 10]

In United States v. Miller,317 U. S. 369, the Court gave full articulation to these principles:

"If a distinct tract is condemned, in whole or in part, other lands in the neighborhood may increase in market value due to the proximity of the public improvement erected on the land taken. Should the Government, at a later date, determine to take these other lands, it must pay their market value as enhanced by this factor of proximity. If, however, the public project from the beginning included the taking of certain tracts, but only one of them is taken in the first instance, the owner of the other tracts should not be allowed an increased value for his lands which are ultimately to be taken any more than the owner of the tract first condemned is entitled to be allowed an increased market value because adjacent lands not immediately taken increased in value due to the projected improvement."

"The question then is whether the respondents' lands were probably within the scope of the project from the time the Government was committed to it. If they were not, but were merely adjacent lands, the subsequent enlargement of the project to include them ought not to deprive the respondents of the value added in the meantime by the proximity of the improvement. If, on the other hand, they were, the Government ought not to pay any increase in value arising from the known fact that the lands probably would be condemned. The owners ought

Page 397 U. S. 18

not to gain by speculating on probable increase in value due to the Government's activities."

317 U.S. at 317 U. S. 376-377.

There is no controversy in the present case regarding these basic principles. The parties agree that, if the acreage in issue was "probably within the scope of the project from the time the Government was committed to it," substantially less compensation is due than if it was not. For if the property was probably within the project's original scope, then its compensable value is to be measured in terms of agricultural use. If, on the other hand, the acreage was outside the original scope of the project, its compensable value is properly measurable in terms of its economic potential as lakeside residential or recreational property.

The issue between the parties is simply whether the "scope of the project" question is to be determined by the trial judge or by the jury. There is no claim that the issue is of constitutional dimensions. For it has long been settled that there is no constitutional right to a jury in eminent domain proceedings. See Baman v. Ross,167 U. S. 548, 167 U. S. 593. As Professor Moore has put the matter:

"The practice in England and in the colonies prior to the adoption in 1791 of the Seventh Amendment, the position taken by Congress contemporaneously with, and subsequent to, the adoption of the Amendment, and the position taken by the Supreme Court and nearly all of the lower federal courts lead to the conclusion that there is no constitutional right to jury trial in the federal courts in an action for the condemnation of property under the power of eminent domain. [Footnote 11] "

Page 397 U. S. 19

It is not, therefore, to the Seventh Amendment that we look in this case, but to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 71A(h) provides that, except in circumstances not applicable here, "any party" to a federal eminent domain proceeding "may have a trial by jury of the issue of just compensation" unless the court, in its discretion, orders that that issue "shall be determined by a commission of three persons appointed by it. . . . Trial of all issues shall otherwise be by the court." [Footnote 12] The Rule thus provides that, except for the single issue of just compensation, the trial judge is to decide all issues, legal and factual, that may be presented. The critical inquiry is thus whether "the issue of just compensation," as that phrase is used in the Rule, is broad enough to embrace the question whether the condemned property was probably within the scope of the federal project. [Footnote 13]

Page 397 U. S. 20

Although the matter could be decided either way without doing violence to the language of Rule 71A(h), we think the Rule's basic structure makes clear that a jury in federal condemnation proceedings is to be confined to the performance of a single narrow but important function -- the determination of a compensation award within ground rules established by the trial judge. The Rule gives the trial court discretion to eliminate a jury entirely. And when a jury is afforded, the sweeping language of the final sentence of the Rule discloses a clear intent to give the district judge a role in condemnation proceedings much broader than he occupies in a conventional jury trial. It is for him to decide "all issues" other than the precise issue of the amount of compensation to be awarded. It follows that it is for the judge to tell the jury the criteria it must follow in determining what amount will constitute just compensation, and that, in order to do so, he must decide the "scope of the project" issue as a preliminary matter. We therefore approve and adopt the procedural rule announced by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Wardy v. United States, 402 F.2d 762, and hold that it is for the judge, and not the jury, to decide whether the property condemned was probably within the project's original Scope. [Footnote 14]

Page 397 U. S. 21

Finally, the Government asks us to take this occasion to "clarify" the "scope of the project" test. We think the test was stated with admirable clarity by a unanimous Court in Miller: if the "lands were probably within the scope of the project from the time the Government was committed to it," no enhancement in value attributable to the project is to be considered in awarding compensation. As with any test that deals in probabilities, its application to any particular set of facts requires discriminating judgment. [Footnote 15] The rule does not require a showing that the land ultimately taken was actually specified in the original plans for the project. It need only be shown that, during the course of the planning or original construction, it became evident that land so situated would probably be needed for the public use.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

[Footnote 1]

Congress authorized the Nolin Reservoir Project in 1938 as part of a comprehensive flood control plan for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. See Act of June 28, 1938, § 4, 52 Stat. 1217. Congress first appropriated funds for the planning stage of the project in 1956. See Public Works Appropriation Act of 1957, 70 Stat. 479. In July, 1958, the Chief of Army Engineers approved a general design memorandum contemplating the construction of recreational areas in connection with the project, but evidently not specifying where they would be. The first funds for construction were appropriated in 1958. See Public Works Appropriation Act of 1959, 72 Stat. 1573. Construction began in January, 1959.

Most of the respondents' acreage condemned by the Government was taken because it would be inundated by the reservoir, and there is no question that this land was within the original scope of the project. But 78 acres of the tract were taken for the construction of recreational facilities adjacent to the reservoir itself. These 78 acres were not referred to in a design memorandum submitted in June, 1959. They were, however, designated for taking in a memorandum approved in October of that year. It has been Government policy to build recreational areas in conjunction with federal reservoir projects since 1944. Act of December 22, 1944, § 4, 58 Stat. 889.

[Footnote 2]

United States v. 811.9 Acres of Land, 404 F.2d 303.

[Footnote 3]

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that the "scope of the project" issue is to be determined by the trial judge. Wardy v. United States, 402 F.2d 762, 763.

[Footnote 4]

Monongahela Navigation Co. v. United States,148 U. S. 312, 148 U. S. 326.

[Footnote 5]

United States v. New River Collieries Co.,262 U. S. 341, 262 U. S. 343; Seaboard Air Line R. Co. v. United States,261 U. S. 299, 261 U. S. 304.

[Footnote 6]

New York v. Sage,239 U. S. 57, 239 U. S. 61; Boom Co. v. Patterson,98 U. S. 403, 98 U. S. 408.

[Footnote 7]

Kerr v. South Park Commissioners,117 U. S. 379, 117 U. S. 386.

[Footnote 8]

Shoemaker v. United States,147 U. S. 282, 147 U. S. 304-305.

[Footnote 9]

United States v. Virginia Electric & Power Co.,365 U. S. 624, 365 U. S. 635-636; United States v. Cors,337 U. S. 325, 337 U. S. 332-334.

[Footnote 10]

United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Co.,229 U. S. 53, 229 U. S. 81; Boom Co. v. Patterson, supra.

[Footnote 11]

5 J. Moore, Federal Practice

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